September Song (or, Twenty Years Of Schooling & They Put You On The Day Shift)
by MOLLY LAMBERT
Here comes September to cut into the sweaty, humid, unemployed, depressed cake that was August before it weeps any more pink frosting onto the dirty kitchen floor!
I grew up fetishizing cold weather, because it was not a thing we really have in Los Angeles. Years of exposure to books set in prep schools or written by Johns Updike and Cheever cultivated in me the strong Jewish/Catholic lust for east coast WASPs and their culture. I especially fetishized fall, with its scarves and coats and coziness.
Fall is when school starts, it's when the new TV season traditionally begins, and summer popcorn movies are replaced by Oscar-bait movies. Magazines get thick again (or they used to) and all of the new products are suddenly "pumpkin" or "plum."
September for me has always meant my birthday, which talk about your buildup to a non life-changing event. Nothing changes on your birthday. Nothing especially changes on New Year's. So why do we expect so much from our Septembers?
Well for one, September is when kids go back to school, which implies the return of structure to where there was none. Even if you went to camp or worked all summer break, August was about the antsiness building up for something new to happen.
We spend the bulk of our youths, a ridiculously long amount of our lives, on a strict calendar whose organizing principle is school starting in the early fall. It is not hard to imagine that vestigially we still feel like we are going back to school every September.
Until I lived on the east coast during college, I had no idea that scarves served an actual function (keeping your neck warm). I also knew nothing about the secret undertow of autumn's nostalgia, which is DREAD. The trade-off for the beautiful natural spectacle of New England autumn is that it becomes New England winter.
In California the fall crispness is just a prelude to more of the same during winter, but in most other places it acts as foreshadowing that within a couple of months it'll be too cold to keep your eyes open outside. Fall nostalgia has a morbid undercurrent. The leaves are beautiful but they are dying. Back to school's second self is Halloween.
It's like we subconsciously internalize the seasonal change. Studies have shown that external stimulants like sounds and smells have a huge impact on influencing human behavior. Is that why everyone freaks the fuck out at the end of summer even though they are no longer going back to school? Something about seeing all those pencils and backpacks just triggers the deep desire we all have to hit the reset button on our lives.
Most of the people I know are freelancers in one sense or another, and their career paths involve amorphous to-do lists and shitty day jobs or erratic work. Because I have nothing else to compare it to, it is hard for me to feel like being in your twenties right now is any different than being in your twenties at any point during the last century.
The future holds the possibility to be great or terrible, and since it has not yet occurred it remains simultaneously both. And so the flip side of anticipation is dread.
You can anticipate good things happening with the seasonal change, but because you absolutely cannot predict in advance them there is also endless dread of worst case scenarios, even though the chance of every situation playing out nightmarishly is low.
You might not have a decent job or an apartment or whatever right now, but that doesn't make you the kind of person who is incapable of having those things. It just makes you someone who doesn't happen to have all of them right now, which is most people at most points in most of their lives. It's not a comment on your true self.
The thing about external factors beyond your control (like the horrible economy and its many attendant trickle-down woes) is that they do change unexpectedly and in a way that is impossible to always predict accurately, much like the weather.
In the meantime all you can do is stay as positive as possible, keep putting in work, and maybe eat some pumpkin bread in a scarf and coat by a duck pond around dusk.
"Nobody's Hero" - Stiff Little Fingers (mp3)
"Straw Dogs" - Stiff Little Fingers (mp3)
"No Change" - Stiff Little Fingers (mp3)